Two days ago, I read a Hollywood News Reporter story (here) on Shonda Rhimes. Here was a woman who produced some 70 hours of annual television in 256 territories; making tens of millions of dollars for herself and more than $2 billion for Disney, but yet in constant battle with her network ABC, over content, over budget for her series Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder.
In 2017, after 15 years with ABC, she left for a first-of-its-kind, nine-figure overall deal at Netflix. However in February 2018, according to the report, before Rhimes had even found a first project to sink her teeth into, Ryan Murphy, another television shown runner inked a deal, reportedly worth as much as $300 million, or double Rhimes’ then-reported sum, and the media narrative shifted. ‘It was no longer, simply, “Shonda Rhimes, trailblazer,” but rather about the now booming eight- and nine-figure market for producers, with at least a few reporters wondering, publicly, why the Black female showrunner appeared to be making so much less than the white male one.’
After reading this section, I saw myself in Shonda. I saw multiple black women who work extensively but rarely claim their space however they define it. Our spaces are never ours to own. Our spaces are never ours to even brag about. Even Rhimes described feeling obsessed watching Murphy not only claim, but own his space. But when she was awarded for Luminary award at an Elle’s Women in Hollywood event, she came to the conclusion ‘that men brag and women hide, even when they don’t deserve to brag, men brag. When men do deserve to brag, they’re good at it.’ But because of the award, because she was being celebrated for inspiring other women for the first time ever, and on behalf of women everywhere, Shonda bragged and rightfully so. Not only is she a black executive producer in Hollywood, she let it be known that she was ‘the highest paid show runner on television.’ She claimed her space even though it felt uncomfortable. She claimed her space not only for herself but for every other women she inspires everyday.
Coincidentally, claim your space is the title to a paper I co-wrote with colleagues years ago. In it we shared an African proverb to illustrate why leadership and claiming your space matters. The proverb simply states: He who is leading and has no one following is only taking a walk. Leaders we argue, all have to do the necessary work to build up the visions of those around them and not just their own. I try my best to embody this style of enlightened leadership with the students I mentor.
But the African quote on the section we wrote on claiming your space, which simply states: ‘Until the lions produce their own historians, the story of the hunt would glorify only the hunter’– is my favorite proverbs of all times. Shonda Rhimes, is the lion of our times, claiming her rightful space as the highest paid show runner on television. Her story, her resilience, her ability to inspire is the reason why we should all do our part to keep claiming our space and brag about it too.